CINCINNATI — When Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and the 2014 Kentucky Derby have been mentioned in the same breath, chances are the discussion centered around the Grade I-winning 3-year-old in his barn who won't take part in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
The saga of juvenile champion Shared Belief's foot ailments has been the cloud hanging over the Hollendorfer shedrow all winter. That's why it must be a nice change for the California-based trainer this week to talk up the Grade I-winning sophomore in his care who just keeps soundly forging ahead.
The more Hollendorfer sends Tamarando to the track, the more the son of Bertrando answers with results that might as well be shorthand for "OK, what's next?" While Hollendorfer declared Shared Belief out of the Kentucky Derby last week, the right to be in the Churchill Downs starting gate this May 3 could be on tap for Tamarando should his form hold in Saturday's Grade III, $550,000 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park.
Owned and bred by Mr. and Mrs. Larry Williams, Tamarando drew post No. 4 and was installed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite in the full field of 12 entered Wednesday for the 11⁄8-mile race. With 50 qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby going to Saturday's victor, whoever crosses the wire first is practically locked in for a start on the first Saturday in May should his connections choose.
Heading into what will be the 11th start of his career, Tamarando has ticked many of the boxes one would desire to see in a 3-year-old classic hopeful. His fourth-place finish in his career debut at Hollywood Park last June marks the only time he has been off the board. A win in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity came last September.
When Tamarando won the Grade III, 11⁄8-mile El Camino Real Derby over Dance With Fate on Feb. 15, it marked the fourth different track he has competed on and sixth different distance he has tried.
"He's never gone backward," Hollendorfer said during a national teleconference. "If a horse is going backward a little we freshen him up and then try to go again with him, but he's always been steadfastly going forward so that's why he's run as many times as he has.
"He's been very ultra-consistent for me. He's been very bullet sound ... and he's coming up to this race really well."
Tamarando comes with an off-the-pace style but has shown enough versatility and kick to win both sprinting at 51/2 furlongs and going two turns. The fact he has held his own against what is shaping up to be a class bunch of West Coast horses also is proving a flattering angle.
In his season debut, Tamarando finished second in the California Cup Derby to California Chrome, who came back to win the Grade II San Felipe by 71/4 lengths on March 8.
"I don't know what everybody thinks about East Coast horses and West Coast horses and so on, but from what I've seen, if you can run with the best horses in California, then you know you at least run pretty well in the races around the country," Hollendorfer said. "He's been in against some of the best in California so I'm thinking that he's going to run pretty good back."
The fact Tamarando has made seven starts over synthetic tracks played no small part in Hollendorfer's decision to ship to the Spiral. However, fellow Grade I winner and 4-1 morning-line second choice We Miss Artie has had his best outings on Polytrack, winning the Grade I Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last October.
We Miss Artie's last outing was an eighth-place finish in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes. Dirt form or no dirt form, owner Ken Ramsey has stated that he is trying to get the Artie Schiller colt into the Kentucky Derby any way possible.
"The idea for the Spiral is to get him into the Kentucky Derby," Ramsey said. "If any of my horses qualify for the Derby, we're going. Who knows? Animal Kingdom won the Spiral Stakes (in 2011) and he won the Derby."
Trainer Wayne Catalano will have a two-pronged attack in the Spiral with graded stakes winners Solitary Ranger and Poker Player.
Late-running Poker Player took an off-the-turf edition of the Grade III Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland last October. Solitary Ranger, who figures to be the early speed in the Spiral, enters off a gate-to-wire, 43/4-length victory in the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway on March 1.
"The horse has filled out and matured and is doing very well," Catalano said of Solitary Ranger. "I think that race (the Battaglia) is going to help him."